We’ve had so much fun with the 50 Things Writers Shouldn’t Do post (currently up to roughly a gazillion things writer’s shouldn’t do), that we decided to turn the tables, and solicit your help in creating a list of things publishers shouldn’t do.


  • Don’t try to capture lightning in a bottle—just promote your authors instead.
  • Don’t publish “the next” anything.
  • Don’t look for “the sure thing.”
  • Don’t overpay debut authors—nine times out of ten, you’re ruining at least one career.
  • Don’t publish debuts in HC—TPO is the way to go!
  • Don’t pretend that Bookscan is in any way prescriptive in negotiating author advances.
  • Don’t send royalty statements six weeks late.
  • Don’t publish so damn many titles!
  • Don’t put a dog on the cover of a book as a means of persuading consumers.
  • Don’t put a dog on the cover at all (it’s over, okay, O-V-E-R, dogs are 2006)


  • Don’t pad the advance print run to buyers to try to get them to buy more. If you’re printing so many of them, I won’t have any trouble getting them later, will I?
  • Don’t use props in author photos. (except hats. I’ll accept reasonable hats (i’m looking at you JE), but nothing that belongs in mardigras, and no indiana jones hats for thrillers about archeologists.)
  • Don’t let poorly copyedited books go out the door. This is a huge annoyance to me. Half the books I read seem to have typos or punctuation errors in them. Christ, give the intern one last go at it.
  • Don’t make the blurbs and blurb authors more prominent than the author or book they are promoting.
  • Don’t publish books you aren’t interested in promoting.
  • Don’t do what everyone else is doing.
  • Don’t pay an advance the book has no chance of recouping.
  • Don’t over-distribute to one channel while underselling another.
  • Don’t tell accounts who can sell your book now that you are “waiting for returns.”
  • Don’t be afraid to edit books by big authors. I love great big doorstop books. 500 pages, 800 pages, whatever, but a lot of books would benefit from a little slicing and dicing, even the big guys.


  • Don’t publish a well known literary author, and never reprint the book, even after it gets glowing reviews.
  • Don’t sell that well known author in at the chains, leaving almost nothing for the independents, which have to wait for a reprint that will never come.
  • Don’t depend on a talk show host to sell your books.
  • Don’t pretend like you’re too good to read a query letter. You’re a publisher of books. That’s what happens when you hang out your shingle.
  • Don’t publish anymore books about Vampires or Pirates.  I don’t care who has died and left a manuscript unpublished.
  • Don’t pay comedians six figures to write about their life, unless it’s Jim Norton. That last book was some funny shit.
  • Don’t publish a second book from an author whose first book sold well, when the second book is the same thing as the first.
  • Don’t publish books that you can’t distribute.
  • Don’t pretend that the chains will be here forever.  Just because they have all that space, doesn’t mean you have to fill it.
  • Don’t pretend like bloggers don’t exist. When we ask for a review copy it’s because we want to talk about how great the book is. Not sell it on Ebay.


  • Don’t say in your publicity that you will be working with literary blogs to promote your author and then blow off the bloggers. You have to actually do it if you say that you will.
  • If you want to do an interview between your writer and a Blogger, then step out of the way and let the writer and the blogger talk to each other. Why? A good interview depends on the establishment of trust. Two people can’t trust each other if they have to have a go-between in their conversation.
  • Every legitimate email to a publishing house should be answered. What amazes me is that most so-called marketing departments don’t want to talk. You want word-of-mouth for your book? Doesn’t that mean that you have to open your own mouth? I dunno…but it doesn’t seem like rocket science to me.
  • Now that I got that off my chest…I understand that no one describes a book as “wise and witty”anymore. Thank goodness. But the substitutes for this phrase that involve a double alliteration aren’t any better. Don’t do it.
  • Jump into the pool if you want to use social media. If your writers are beating you to the punch, then what are you there for? I just learned that a writer I like has written enough of a new novel to give some preliminary readings. Now I even know what the title of the novel will be. For a fan this is great. But did I learn this from the publisher? No. I learned it from the writer’s Facebook page. Does Facebook mean that publishers don’t need to have marketing departments anymore? You tell me.
  • Richard Nash has talked about this: Don’t neglect the fans. Don’t hold them in contempt like you do. What are you afraid of? That they won’t kiss your ass? They won’t. Become a fan yourself if you want to please them. Your smartest writers know this better than you do.
  • Don’t inflate announced print runs. Ha…ha…ha. I meant that as a joke.
  • Don’t encourage your reps to read galleys that you won’t distribute to your accounts. I don’t want to hear that my rep has read a galley that he can’t get for me. I also don’t want to hear that he had dinner with a writer that I wasn’t invited to meet or that he went to a great movie tie-in screening that I wasn’t given a ticket for. The bigger the house, the more they do this.
  • Don’t get afraid if writers decide to talk to their fans and vice versa. No harm will come from this. Fans are good, not something you have to stamp out at all costs.
  • As for Jonathan and dogs…I don’t know what’s going on there with his no dogs on the cover. But here’s my cover rule: avoid dark covers, they usually don’t work. They tend to turn off the casual bookstore browser. I am greatly looking forward to seeing the cover of West of Here.

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3G1B is the collaboration of four friends and colleagues in the book business. Together, they review books and stories, interview authors, and maintain an ongoing conversation about publishing, bookselling, writing, pr, and nearly anything else.

JONATHAN EVISON is the author of All About Lulu and West of Here and TNB's Executive Editor. He likes rabbits. He also likes being the ambiguous fourth guy in the “Three Guys” triumvirate. He is the founder of the secret society, The Fiction Files (if he told, he’d have to kill you). He has a website, but it’s old. Just google him.

DENNIS HARITOU has bought books for Barnes and Noble for seven years, for warehouse clubs for five, and has led a book club. He is currently Director of Merchandise at Bookazine.

JASON CHAMBERS has been in the book business for over fifteen years, including tenures as General Manager/Buyer at Book Peddlers in Athens, GA, and seven years as a Buyer and Merchandise Manager at Bookazine. He now works as an bookstore consultant and occasional web designer.

JASON RICE has worked in the book business for ten years at Random House in sales and marketing and Barnes & Noble as a community relations manager. Currently he is an Assistant Sales Manager and Buyer at Bookazine. His fiction has appeared in several literary magazines online and in print. He was once the pseudonymous book reviewer Frank Bascombe for Ain’t It Cool News. He’s taught photography to American students in the South of France, worked as a bicycle messenger in New York City, and for a long time worked very hard in the film & television business in NYC. Production experience includes the television shows Pete & Pete, Can We Shop ( Joan Rivers' old shopping show), and the films The Pallbearer, Flirting With Disaster, and countless commercials---even a Christina Applegate movie that went straight to video.

17 responses to “50 Things Publishers Shouldn’t Do”

  1. […] 30, 2009 in Spitting in the Cracker Barrel Courtesy of The Nervous Breakdown, 50 Things Publishers Shouldn’t Do, and 50 Things Writers Shouldn’t […]

  2. Susan Henderson says:

    Love this. Esp about TPOs and bloggers. And everything that really comes down to respecting writers and readers. Good stuff.

  3. Kate says:

    Author photos are generally the authors’ responsibility. That’s on the wrong list.

  4. Yovonne says:

    Don’t publish a book without having it gone over with a fine toothed comb by a good editor. This one would have saved us all from the utter garbage that is “The Twilight Saga”.

  5. Don’t lament the state of the publishing industry, the quality of the books therein, the quantity of books published, and declining readership trends if you’re going to sink money into the Sarahs (Palin and Silverman), Tila Tequila, and Twilight.

    How about a do? Take a pro-active stance, rather than the reactionary, passive one most publishers take? I tell you, if the publishing industry were a movie, publishers would be played by passively bewildered Tobey Maguire.

    If publishing is basically so much about distribution/dissemination of information, why hasn’t a single publisher invested in the development of a good e-reader?

    “I learned it from the writer’s Facebook page. Does Facebook mean that publishers don’t need to have marketing departments anymore? You tell me.”

    Hell, does Facebook/Twitter mean writers don’t need publishers anymore?

    Short answer would be it doesn’t, but the long answer is it doesn’t yet.

    But someday? Not a call I can make.

    It’s a good point, though; I’m doing an MBA in strategic marketing and promotions because I’ve heard way too many authors recount how their publishers bought the rights to their books and then completely ignored it. One of them from USC; I went to school with Allison Engel, who wrote Food Finds, the book on which the Food Network show is based. To hear her stories about how completely and absolutely her publisher dropped the ball on it (from print runs to distribution to promotions) was chilling.

    • Riane Herlihy says:

      Will – what do you mean by e-reader? So much of what is happening with digital books is really hurting the publishing industry. Supporting it will only hurt them in the end. Publishers are going to have to be completely revamped to fit the current trends. It’s a bit more complicated than “just do it”, but I do understand what you’re getting at.

      • I mean a device by which digital content can be read. I never said “Just do it.” But I don’t believe that what is happening with digital books is hurting the publishing industry; I think the publishing industry’s lack of initiative with regard to digital content is hurting the publishing industry. To put a personal spin on this, in 2007, I was an unknown author (not much has changed in that regard, to be candid) who decided to try an experiment with digital publishing and print-on-demand technology. I used a publishing model I hadn’t seen before and haven’t since (I published a collection and, while the book was available as a whole, I also set it up that each individual piece was available for purchase). I sold several hundred copies of the book and several hundred more of individual pieces (priced from 99 cents to $2.99, depending on context and length), and four months after I published it, it became the first e-book on the iPhone. Since then (and since lowering the digital copy to free while selling a paperback on demand), I have reached several thousand more readers while even selling a few more copies.

        The problem, as I see it, is that most publishers, whether conglomerate corporates or tiny presses, have continued with their old business model while content to sit back and let everyone else change the way information is distributed, disseminated, and consumed. Because of that, they have exceedingly less control over that distribution (one of the major concerns publishers have with regard to digital content is piracy, which I feel is akin to not buying a car because you’re afraid someone is going to steal it. Not exactly, obviously, but you see my point, I hope), which scares them. Meanwhile, people–including writers themselves–are innovating and reaching readers without the help of publishers they used to require, and that scares them even more.

  6. sheree says:

    I hate trying to read poorly copyedited books! My brain freezes up when I see typos. To me there’s nothing worse than paying top dollar for a leather bound or hard copy books only to have it full of friggen typos!

  7. jonathan evison says:

    . . . thanks for the comments, friends . . . susan, glad you’re on board with the trade paper debut . . .much better audience builder . . .

    . . .kate, you’ve got a point about author photos, though i think the publisher should keep an eye on quality control . . . my publisher pretty much told me i had to get a new photo . . . i wanted to use something really casual, and they said: nope, this is a big book for us, go pro . . .

    . . .yvonne and sheree, i feel your pain . . . i read A LOT of galleys and books in ms. form, and mistakes, continuity errors, klunky sentences are all a big distraction . . .though i must say, i’m astounded at how damn good and thorough the copy editors and fact checkers have been with my first two books, so frankly, i don’t see how that happens . . .

    . . . will, lovin’ your proactive stance– take it from me, even if you have a great publicist (and i do), she’s twice as good with me feeding her leads, paving inroads to new markets, and biggest of all reaching out to my readership any and every way i can, social networks being the most fabulous horizontal avenue ever created to do so . . .

  8. Love this! It’s fun as an indie editor to read this list and know there are so many things on it that are totally opposite the stance of most indies, and that we always do as a matter of course, like respect and nurture relationships with bloggers, fans, answer our emails. I mean, some of the items on these lists were so clearly aimed at the big guys that I barely even knew what you were talking about. Movie premier? Christ. That “looking into the window” of what it must be like at the glamorous big houses was funny too.
    That said, some of these apply very well to indie publishers and we could probably generate a pretty long list of our own “don’t” adages. One from here that applies well is “Don’t publish so damn many books,” or however you guys put it. It’s true. Almost all indies publish more books than they can truly afford to publish. Almost every last dime goes to printing costs and putting out volume, and as a result there is no money left over for even a small advance, for a book tour, for even the most essential marketing and events, and authors end up at a figurative party their publisher threw that somehow nobody knows about and nobody comes to. The book is put out into the world, and then it is all on the author to actually do any promotion or make sure anybody reads it.
    Obviously some of the best indies not only don’t make this mistake but have taught the big corporate boys a thing or two about assertive guerilla marketing. But many indie and university publishers just do not pay enough attention to what goes on once a book is out in the world–they always have their eye on the next book and growing their list, as though list size is what makes reputation. The noble intent there is that they want to give as many writers (who are not being accepted by the “dominant” publishing industry–or who don’t want to be part of it) a chance to break into print as they can. That’s great, and it’s necessary that someone cares about that.
    But the bad side is that while the corporate publishers often assign a whole marketing TEAM to a book, too many indies do nothing and the books are invisible, or the author is all alone in his or her efforts. Even the book’s editor may all but disappear a few weeks after the release, like the author is an old high school friend they used to know well but now they’ve moved on.
    This whole issue is why Other Voices Books only puts out 1-2 titles per year. You have to know what you can realistically market within an inch of its life, which is absolutely what the author deserves. I don’t like the term “boutique publisher,” but we jokingly use it. You have to try to create a whole, longterm experience for your authors that lasts about a year in duration, where you live, eat and breathe their book. If you’re a big house, you can afford to do that for more writers. If you’re small, you have to understand your limits and make the most of them, or–forget that you won’t make any money–your authors won’t stay with you for more than one book, like, ever, or recommend you to their friends.

  9. jonathan evison says:

    . . .great post, gina, and glad to hear from an indie editor! . . . it seems to me that about four books a year per editor, and about six books a year for a publicist ought to be about the max . . . that’s about the rate at algonquin, which was a big reason i chose them over a few “bigger” houses . . . everybody has got at least a fighting chance at that ratio . . .but i also think it’s important for editors and publicists to educate their authors–to helo them help themselves–and that takes time, too . . . give me a month of e-mail correspondences with any author, and i can make a decent publicist out of them . . .

  10. Gail S says:

    Okay guys. I’m sorry y’all hate vampires and pirates–I’m not a big fan of them either. But hun, they’re still selling. People buy them. Not me and not you, but lots and lots of people out there still want to read them, and as long as THOSE people want vampire pirate books (Arr!), they’re going to be published. And I think that’s a good thing. No, it’s a Great Thing. Because people are buying books and reading them.

    Maybe they’re not the books you write or the books you want to read, but guess what. We aren’t the whole reading public. Those people may not like the books we like to read. And that’s cool.

    Twilight is a book that bucks the declining readership trends. Maybe readership is declining because too many people are trying to make young people read books they “should” read instead of allowing them to read books they actually enjoy. In a lot of ways, reading for entertainment is frowned upon, which brings us back to the declining readership… I say, let ’em read cake! Man cannot live on vegetables alone…

  11. […] The Nervous Breakdown blog has a list of fifty things publishers shouldn’t do […]

  12. DonnaFaz says:

    Wow! Publishers should put you guys in charge! 😀 I thoroughly enjoyed this piece.

  13. […] nota, qui fica um alista das 50 coisas que os escritores não devem fazer, e as 50 coisas que os editores não devem fazer. […]

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